A Minneapolis man is suing the city of Bloomington over its response to his request for public records about a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America.
Tony Webster, a software engineer and self-described advocate for government transparency, requested city records a few days after the Dec. 20 protest. Webster did not attend the protest but requested a wide range of data connected to it, including voice mails, e-mails, police radio communications and trespass notices.
Webster requested records under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which presumes that state and local government records are public unless a law or other rule says otherwise.
According to a lawsuit filed Friday, the city delayed gathering the records, turned up only a fraction of what it was legally obligated to provide and ultimately denied access to the records altogether.
A major component of Webster’s request was metadata, or information about data, such as the time a photo was taken. The city told Webster that it doesn’t have to provide metadata, but the suit counters otherwise.
The suit also alleges that the city attempted to intimidate Webster “by improperly accessing his voter records, making false statements about [him] in the press, and by making false and misleading legal justifications for denying [him] access to the requested data.”
Webster made his request on Dec. 23, and the city acknowledged receiving it on Dec. 26. But according to the suit, the city didn’t begin to gather records until more than a month later. That delay could mean that certain records, such as voice mails that delete automatically, were lost, said Emma Greenman, Webster’s attorney.
“At the end of the day, this is about information that he’s entitled to under the statute,” Greenman said.